Tight government control prompts warnings of human rights abuses in Ethiopia

Ahead of his visit to the African nation, United Nations secretary-general Antonio Guterres accused the Ethiopian government of “exercising absolute control of the communications and space, restricting freedom of expression, and arbitrarily detaining many people.”

But the Commission on Human Rights for Ethiopia, tasked with overseeing the country’s human rights obligations, has warned that the security measures are not only causing great fear, but could also violate international human rights law. The commission released a statement saying the crackdown appears to be driven by the “institutionalized use of security law measures against opposition and dissenting political parties.”

A report by Human Rights Watch released on Thursday claimed that security officials have also been detaining political activists without a charge and in overcrowded prison facilities. The Human Rights Watch report also said that the government “wants to stifle dissent, politically polarize opposition groups, and sow divisions between Ethiopia’s provinces.”

In the last year, Ethiopia’s security has also increasingly looked towards the Muslim community as a potential threat. Ethiopia has a long history of exploiting the area’s Muslim population, but the government has found itself increasingly on the defensive about increasing threats made by the country’s Muslim minority.

Part of the problem is the violence that has become increasingly apparent in the southern region of Amhara, where protesters are thought to have taken up arms with the use of violence, grenade attacks, and arson attacks against property. At least 50 people have been killed in the region. With the government having branded the protests as terrorism, several of the suspects have been arrested by the country’s counterterrorism unit, with others in police custody and on the run. The latest casualty was an Ethiopian Orthodox priest, who was shot during a church service in the Amhara region.

While it is unclear which individuals have been detained, the Human Rights Watch report found that people have been arrested even on suspicion of having read a website linking one of the demonstrators to organized protests.

Adding to the growing anger towards the government, many Ethiopian Christian opposition leaders are said to have fled into exile in Somalia.

Ethiopia is not the only African country that uses extra-judicial violence as a central part of its security apparatus. Over the last decade in Kenya, human rights groups have documented politically motivated killings as part of the government’s violent crackdown on political protests. As in Ethiopia, the best way to deal with the situation is to free political prisoners.

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